Two former regional Routes event hosts from 2015 have gained a direct air service after it emerged this week that Gulf Air is to introduce a new non-stop link between Bahrain and Tbilisi in Georgia. The three times weekly link is scheduled to launch from June 22, 2017 to meet increasing demand between the GCC nations and the former Soviet republic. It will be flown by Airbus A320 equipment.
The Kingdom of Bahrain’s capital Manama was the host for the first ever Routes Middle East and Africa event in late May / early June 2015 and just a month later Tbilisi welcomed visitors for the Routes Silk Road forum for a second successive year after the 2104 event helped it deliver notable new air services.
Gulf Air said the introduction of flights to Tbilisi’s Shota Rustaveli International Airport follows extensive discussions and negotiations with the Georgian aviation authorities. “We are pleased to respond to passenger demand by opening this newest destination. Launching in June 2017 our new route to Tbilisi, Georgia will cater to summer movement and leisure travellers from the GCC region,” said Maher Salman Al Musallam, chief executive officer, Gulf Air.
“As part of our longstanding mission we are always looking for ways to introduce and strengthen business and tourism links between key global destinations and the Kingdom of Bahrain and the region. I believe this is yet another positive development for Gulf Air in 2017 and one that will appeal to our passengers around the world,” he added.
Visitor numbers into Georgia are on the rise and the country’s civil aviation agency recently revealed that 2.8 million passengers were handled in 2016 at its three main airports: Tbilisi’s Shota Rustaveli International Airport, Batumi International Airport and its newly developed low-cost Kutaisi International Airport facility. This was a 25.6 per cent growth over the previous year.
Growth was recorded across a number of international markets, including the GCC market targeted by Gulf Air’s new route, which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Data extracted from the AirVision Market Intelligence tool from Sabre Airline Solutions shows O&D demand in and out of Georgia from and to these nations grew 54.2 per cent in the last year (12 months to November 2016).
The total market during this period was an estimated 235,000 bi-directional passengers, approximately 320 PPDEW (passenger per day each way), and is dominated by flows into the UAE, a market stimulated by the year-round non-stop offerings of flydubai and Air Arabia between Tbilisi and Dubai and Sharjah, respectively, and Air Arabia summer flights between Batumi and Sharjah.
The local Bahrain – Georgia market is the smallest among all the GCC nations with an underlining base O&D bi-directional demand of around 6,000 annual passengers, but a number that has almost trebled with 173.6 per cent growth over the past 12 months. Gulf Air will expect to stimulate this market as well as provide connections into other GCC nations and its wider network via Bahrain International Airport.
Having undergone a number of restructuring exercises over the past decade, Gulf Air is now seeking to mainly focus on regional routes, albeit long-haul remains a key part of its network, but not to the same scale as other major operators in the region. It currently flies to 41 international destinations in 23 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe and alongside Tbilisi will resume flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka and Entebbe, Uganda during 2017.
After reducing its operations Gulf Air has been able to better control its future growth after successfully eradicating legacy debts reducing annual losses from BHD62.7 million in 2014 to BHD24.1 million in 2015. Ahead of the airline’s latest restructuring, its annual debts were as high as BHD196 million in 2012.
OAG Schedules Analyser data shows that 2016 was a stable year for Gulf Air with network capacity rising just 0.2 per cent versus 2015. A small network expansion in 2017 will position the carrier well for its fleet renewal and the arrival of Airbus A320neo, Boeing 787-9 and Bombardier CS100 CSeries equipment from 2018.